Applause as Vlakfontein murder suspect Fita Khupe is denied bail

Fita Khupe, who is facing of seven counts of murder and theft, has been denied bail.
Fita Khupe, who is facing of seven counts of murder and theft, has been denied bail.
Image: Naledi Shange

News of bail being denied to the surviving suspect in the Vlakfontein family murder case was met with applause from community members seated in the gallery of the Protea Magistrate's Court in Soweto on Monday.

Magistrate David Mhango denied Fita Khupe bail‚ saying that he "failed to prove there were exceptional circumstances" to warrant his release.

Mhango said there was a likelihood that Khupe would be killed by the public should he be released.

He highlighted the recent evidence of community leader Rebecca Moloi‚ who told the court that there were no guarantees that Khupe‚ who is originally from Zimbabwe but now holds South African citizenship‚ would cross the borders of South Africa alive should he be granted bail.

Mhango said Khupe's release therefore had the potential to disturb the peace.

Khupe was initially arrested alongside Ernest Mabaso‚ a 27-year-old man who had infiltrated the now deceased Khoza family under the guise of being a lost-long relative.

Mabaso‚ who was found dead in a police cell three weeks ago after allegedly committing suicide‚ had confessed to carrying out the murders but implicated Khupe as the mastermind behind the plot.

He claimed to have been threatened by Khupe and even after his arrest pleaded with the court to keep him separated from Khupe.

Khupe had been in a long-standing relationship with one of the Khoza women who were found murdered and buried under heaps of soil in the family home in October 2018. Neighbours had reportedly forced Khupe to open the door to the house after being concerned by an unbearable stench coming from the yard.

Khupe's lawyer Gerhard Landman‚ however‚ said his client had not been disturbed by the smell - despite sleeping in the same house where the decomposing bodies were hidden. He suggested Khupe's ignorance of the stench could have been masked by the Jeyes Fluid that Mabaso used to clean the house prior to Khupe's return from Zimbabwe.

Some of the bodies of the dead family members were discovered in a locked bedroom in the house‚ while others were found in a locked room outside. Khupe claimed to have no knowledge that they were there. He said he believed that his girlfriend and her family were visiting family in KwaZulu-Natal at the time.

Following Mabaso's alleged suicide‚ Landman argued that the state had no case against Khupe. He alleged that Mabaso's confession was hearsay evidence that could never be tested on trial and therefore dismissed the state's case against Khupe as circumstantial.

Delivering his ruling‚ however‚ Mhango said this was not the case. "The state's case against Mr Khupe is strong and remains strong‚" he said.

Explaining that Mabaso was the co-accused and not a state witness‚ Mhango dismissed Landman's argument as a "misdirection on the part of the defence".

Landman had also argued that his client was not a flight risk‚ claiming that he had plenty of time to flee the country after the discovery of the bodies and before his arrest but had chosen not to.

Mhango‚ however‚ said there was no guarantee that Khupe would not try to flee. He said the elderly man faced seven counts of premeditated murder and could therefore be sentenced to seven life sentences. That would be reason enough for him to try to skip the country‚ said Mhango.

Also on Mhango's list of reasons for denying bail was that some witness statements were yet to be taken. Investigating officer Banele Ndlovu‚ who testified in the bail application‚ said one of those witnesses was a tenant who occupied a back room in the Khoza household.

The tenant had told police that he had seen Khupe cleaning the house shortly before the bodies of the seven family members were found.

Mhango said Khupe knew who this tenant was and there was therefore a "likelihood that he could interfere" with the ongoing investigation if he were granted bail.

Khupe wore a stern look throughout the proceedings‚ with his hands folded behind his back as Mhango sealed his immediate fate.

He will return to court on April 2.

Source: TMG Digital.

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